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'Twas the night before NaNo…

Today was my last day of NaNo prep, and I confess that my outline isn’t really finished. I’ve got pretty much a scene-by-scene outline to the end of Act Two, but after that it’s just a line per chapter. The thing is, I don’t really want to pin down the details of the closing scenes until I’ve written what comes before that. With luck it will all become obvious by that point – and if not, I’ll just have to sit down for a few hours and puzzle it out. Either way, I’ve done as much prep as I feel comfortable with, so I’m calling it done.

And so to bed – I have to be up early to get that word count in…

PoL first draft, Days 76-93

As you can see, I haven’t been writing the past couple of weeks. I’ve been working on The Prince of Lies pretty much non-stop, but I’ve stopped worrying about gross output and focused on outlining the story. My plan is to have a chapter-by-chapter outline completed by bedtime on Halloween (whenever that may be!), then blast through the draft during NaNoWriMo. I’m still working on that tricky third quarter of the book, but it’s gradually coming together, after throwing out a number of plot possibilities and shuffling the order of others.

I’m therefore going to shift this blog to a slightly different format from now on, with daily updates on my writing – but major milestones like finishing drafts will be posted on my main blog instead. That way I can ensure that the important stuff gets out to other social media whilst allowing me to keep this blog as a record of my progress as a writer.

So, one more day to go then it’s NaNoWriMo Madness!

NaNoWriMo 2012

Way back in 2006 I was struggling to finish a novel—any novel—so I decided to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to push me past the opening chapters, which is where I always used to stall. It worked so well that I did it again in 2007, and those two drafts formed the basis for my first two novels, The Alchemist of Souls and The Merchant of Dreams. They had to be practically rewritten from scratch, but writing them had proved to me that I could indeed finish a novel-length manuscript in a short period of time.

Fast forward to 2012, and I’m trying to finish the first draft of The Prince of Lies, the final book in my Elizabethan trilogy. This is the first all-new book I’ve written since 2007, and I’m still finding the drafting process difficult. My first draft prose is better than it was six years ago (thankfully), but wrangling a novel-length plot doesn’t get any easier! And since the book is pencilled in to be published in November next year, I need to get my skates on!

I’m therefore doing what you might call an “unofficial” NaNoWriMo, in that I’m not starting a project from scratch (one of the “rules” insisted on by NaNo-purists), but I do hope to finish it by the November 30th deadline and it will take me approximately 50,000 words to do that. We have a large NaNoWriMo group here in Cambridge, and joining in with them always gives me a buzz (I’ve used NaNoWriMo in the intervening years to get me through revisions and editing).

Anyway, I probably won’t be online much for the next month (apart from weekly blog posts and occasional @MalCatlyn tweets, which I can schedule ahead of time), so I’ll see you all on the flip side!

BristolCon 2012

Last Saturday saw the return of BristolCon, the small but perfectly formed SF convention based in the city of the same name. It was my second year of attending, and though it’s a long way to go for a one-day convention, it’s well worth a visit. The programming is always excellent, managing to avoid the usual tired topics that get recycled every year at the larger conventions in favour of such delights as “Toilets in Outer Space – practicalities for a fantastic world” and “Women in Sensible Armour”. I attended the latter, which of course started off with general ridiculing of chain-mail bikinis but soon diverged into related topics such as women in the military and women passing as men. Of course it covered some of the same ground as many panels on gender, but the specificity of the title gave the panel a focus and direction that it might otherwise not have taken.

My own schedule was fairly modest: a place in the mass signing tables, a panel and a reading. A couple of girls from Fantasy Faction turned up with copies of The Alchemist of Souls for me to sign, which was gratifying, and I think Forbidden Planet sold all but one of the copies they’d brought with them. The panel, on “The Evolution and Future of Steampunk” was lively, to say the least, but the very dapper Philip Reeve did a splendid job of keeping us all in order. After the panel I read from The Merchant of Dreams; just a small excerpt from the end of Chapter 5, since it was only a ten-minute slot. Nevertheless it was well-attended, and I hope has whetted a few more appetites for the next book.

I was also interviewed by Mary Milton for ShoutOut Bristol – that will appear on one of their shows soon. I was a bit nervous, so hopefully Mary has been able to edit out all my hesitations and ramblings!

At the end of the day there was a short ceremony to thank the guests of honour, at which Gareth Powell was given the best GoH gift ever: a stuffed toy monkey in a flight suit., aka Ack-Ack Macaque. As Gareth’s fans will know, this is the eponymous character from his new book, due out in January next year (the same day as the UK paperback of The Merchant of Dreams, as it happens).

By Saturday night I was really tired and therefore decided to go to bed a little earlier than I normally do at conventions; an unwise decision as it turns out. I had just got into bed and started to feel sleepy when I was woken by the fire alarm! I pulled on jeans and a warm top over my nightie and headed to the stairs… Fortunately it was a warm dry night and we didn’t have to stand outside too long (it was a false alarm caused by a lift malfunction), and it gave me an opportunity to finally corner Marc Gascoigne for a chat about cover designs for The Prince of Lies :)

BristolCon 2013 is scheduled for October 26th, i.e. the weekend before World Fantasy. I shall be at both, of course, so I hope to see you there!

Web presence 101.8 – Pinterest

Pinterest in the new kid on the social media block that debuted in 2010. Taking a leaf out of Tumblr’s book, it’s a social media scrapbook, encouraging you to share pictures with your friends. Each image is called a “pin”, and you can organise them into “boards”, or categories. As with other social media, you can follow other people and they can follow you; images pinned by you and your followees appear on your homepage. You can then pin them to your own boards, so that your followers get to see them, or just comment or like them, as on Facebook.

Today’s random selection of images!
Today’s random selection of images!

At first, Pinterest was invitation-only—I picked up an invitation earlier this year through fellow author Jody Hedlund, whose blog I follow (somewhat erratically)—but it’s now open for everyone to sign up. So why would you want to? What use is a virtual pinboard to a writer? We deal in words, not pictures, right?

Well, they do say that a picture paints a thousand words, and visual material can really help to spark your imagination. Sure, you could spend hours on Google image search, but Pinterest feeds you a constant stream of material chosen by real people rather than a computer algorithm. I do find I have to be selective, though; some of the people I follow have quite a diversity of boards (image categories), and whilst I might be interested in some, others just clog my feed with irrelevance. Thankfully you can follow individual boards rather than a member’s whole collection.

This all sounds very jolly—and it is!—but there’s a catch. Whereas other social media revolve around words and informal images (e.g. photos of your cat that you took with your phone camera), Pinterest’s focus is on sharing professional-quality images. Most people cannot easily create this kind of content, which means that most members’ chosen images are predominantly or wholly created by other people. I think you can see where this is going…

What it boils down to is that it’s against Pinterest’s T&C to distribute images without permission from the copyright owner. Whilst I totally sympathise with artists whose work is being distributed for free, I don’t see how this can be squared with social media. The whole point of Pinterest is to share interesting images, and if you can’t rely on other users to obey the rules and only pin images they have the rights to (which you obviously can’t), that means you are breaking the rules unless you follow every image back to its source.

Personally I feel there’s a big moral difference between redistributing high-resolution artwork that’s intended for sale (especially if you remove any link or attribution) and linking to pictures that have been used for illustrative purposes only, but legally there is no difference at all. At any rate, I try to restrict myself to pinning book covers (which is generally considered fair use since you’re helping to promote the product), public domain artwork, and small photo-illustrations – and I always ensure I link back to the originating site.

Because of these problems, I find it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Pinterest. Yes, it’s fun to browse the beautiful images your friends have found online, and liking/commenting is harmless enough, but you’ll have to decide for yourself how comfortable you are with breaking the law…

Other articles in this series:

  1. Claim your name
  2. Your website
  3. Blogging
  4. Introduction to social media
  5. Twitter
  6. Facebook
  7. Goodreads
  8. Pinterest
  9. Google alerts

PoL first draft, Days 67-75

I had a lightbulb moment this morning, after a week of flailing around get nothing written: I’m working on the midpoint of the book*. Looking back at The Alchemist of Souls and The Merchant of Dreams, on both of those books I stalled at the mid-point and took a couple of weeks to get through a crucial, game-changing chapter.

So, I’m going to stop beating myself up for not writing, and start giving this next couple of chapters the attention they require. I know from experience that if I can get this section right, the rest of the book will start to flow. Fingers crossed…

Total word count: No idea – I don’t have access to Scrivener right now!

* I have chapters written after that point, but I’ve backed up to try and rationalise the lead-in

@MalCatlyn is back!

To mark the upcoming release of his latest adventures, Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn will once more be tweeting his exploits for the next three months. Why, you might ask, would a spy be broadcasting his whereabouts on a public network? Well…

  1. He could well be using one of the many cunning ciphers that were invented by 16th-century cryptographer Thomas Phelippes;
  2. He’s a spy, so you can’t trust anything he says;
  3. The internet didn’t exist in 1594, so who’s going to read them? Duh!

As with his previous outing, #malsdiary, I’ll he’ll be tweeting in “real time” (give or take 418 years), segueing into the events of The Merchant of Dreams in January.

Mal’s Diary

Want to read the original “Mal’s Diary” tweets, all in one convenient free download? I’ve compiled an ebook version of the feed for your reading pleasure:

ePub | Kindle | PDF

Friday Reads: Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie

About this time last year I reviewed the first volume in Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, The Blade Itself, having enjoyed it immensely. However with all the other demands on my time since I signed my own book deal, it’s taken me since then to get around to the second volume, Before They Are Hanged.

Warning: some spoilers!

Picking up where the first book left off, Before They Are Hanged follows four storylines: Bayaz’s expedition into the far west, accompanied by Logen Ninefingers, Jezal dan Luthar and Ferro Maljinn; Glokta’s posting to the southern frontier city of Dagoska, under threat from being retaken by the Gurkish; Major West’s campaign on the Union’s northern border, as the warlord Bethod pushes south; and Logen’s former companions travelling south into the Union, trying to avoid Bethod’s armies. It is very much a middle volume of a trilogy in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings, with the main purpose of moving its characters around on the map, presumably towards a final confrontation. Only Glokta’s storyline is neatly self-contained, bringing him back to Adua after the fall of Dagoska.

As before, Glokta is still my favourite character; he’s as cynical and self-deprecating as ever, unable to accept that he retains some shreds of decency even though he behaves in a decidedly chivalrous manner towards the women he encounters. I also enjoyed Jezal’s character arc, as the privations of the trek across the western continent beat this spoilt city-bred brat into a humbler, more mature man—albeit still with enough vanity to be mortified by his battle scars! Logen and Ferro are growing on me, as is the Dogman, but Bayaz remains an arrogant, unknowable figure who leads more through abject fear of his powers than from any inspirational qualities. Abercrombie’s prose is ironically at its most shaky when describing his best character: Glokta is sometimes little more than a collection of mannerisms, only rescued from tiresomeness by his dry wit. In contrast, the narrative voice of this novel is at its strongest in the chapters from the point of view of the Dogman, perhaps because the northern warriors are closest in speech to Abercrombie’s native Lancashire accent/dialect.

Whilst this is mostly an open-ended narrative encompassing several entirely separate storylines, there are little touches that tie it all together, such as the contrast between Jezal’s ability to grow and change versus Prince Ladisla’s total, tragic inability to do so. Another thematic link is how impulsive acts that make a lot of sense at the time can turn out to have unexpected consequences way down the line. I won’t spoil the major plot twists but in Abercrombie’s world, as in Middle Earth, the fate of thousands often rests on the decision to kill or spare an individual. In fact in this volume I felt Tolkien’s influence very strongly; we have a wizard leading a disparate group of adventurers across a continent, a beseiged city, ancient ruins, a mage-created race of violent humanoids who can be slaughtered with impunity…the parallels are numerous and sometimes a little too obvious.

Whilst both Abercrombie’s and GRRM’s books are often described as “gritty”, I for one find the former far more palatable than the latter, largely because of the difference in attitudes to women characters. In A Song of Ice and Fire, rape and other violence against women is commonplace and (more importantly) rarely punished; in The First Law, the opposite is true. Of course bad things sometimes happen to good people, but the overall tone is upbeat. For all their violence, Abercrombie’s novels are not “grimdark”, at least not in this reader’s estimation—and for that I’m heartily grateful.

Given the length of my TBR list, it will probably be another year before I get around to reading the final volume in the trilogy, but since that’s about the same pace that Joe’s books are being published, it’s not really a problem. On the contrary, it’s something to look forward to…

PoL first draft, Days 57-66

Ten days later and I still find myself struggling with Act Two :(

I have in fact been writing at least a little, despite another convention to interrupt my routine, but today I’ve also rethought this Act Two story arc yet again as it still wasn’t making sense. As a result I’ve shuffled some scenes around and cut others, so my word count for the draft is actually less than it was ten days ago. This is of course somewhat depressing, but there’s no point keeping material that isn’t helping the story.

What I’d really like to do at this stage is pull a NaNoWriMo and power through the rest of the story in 50-60k by the end of this month, but I’m finding that hard to do when I’m not confident about the preceding chapters. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the middles of books…?

Total word count: 38,647

I’m not even going to bother with a daily average – it’s too depressing!

FantasyCon 2012

This year was my fourth FantasyCon and the second one in Brighton. As ever it was an excellent convention, with the added advantage of a great location by the sea.

Having been unimpressed by last year’s venue, I booked into the nearby Queen’s Hotel. It’s another old hotel like the Albion so the room was a touch shabby, but clean and spacious—and with a sea view at no extra charge. The fact that my room number was 101 was a little disturbing, but nothing ominous happened over the weekend, thankfully!

As often seems to happen at FantasyCon, I failed to attend much of the programming. There were a few reasons for this. In the case of the panels, there weren’t a great many, and they fell into three categories: the “how to” ones for aspiring writers (no longer of much use to me!), the once-interesting topics that I’ve seen again and again and sometimes even participated in (gender in fantasy – yawn), and topics I’m just not that interested in (anything about horror, for starters). So, not necessarily a bad selection, just not of much interest to me. As for readings, they were once again held in the small room on the front of the hotel that gets baking hot whenever the sun shines; it was bad enough in there at my own 11am reading, so I didn’t feel inclined to suffer a second time! That said, the reading went very well, and I got some good questions from the audience.

Mostly I hung out in the Regency bar (much less hot and stuffy than the seafront lounge), catching up with the multitude of friends I’ve met at previous Eastercons. This is getting harder and harder, as I know so many people now—my sincere apologies to anyone I missed! I went to the mass signing and got my copy of Before They Are Hanged signed by Joe Abercrombie, and although I didn’t have a formal signing session of my own I ended up signing several copies of The Alchemist of Souls just through being approached by readers (mostly friends, admittedly!). Also, Lee from Angry Robot gave me another set of author copies, this time CD boxed sets of the audio version, so I dare say I’ll be giving away one of those. Watch this space!

Always awesome to see people from my favourite TV shows in the flesh!
Always awesome to see people from my favourite TV shows in the flesh!

The one type of event I do try and catch is the Guest of Honour interview, and as usual these didn’t disappoint. I only made it to the Mark Gatiss interview, but apparently the rest were excellent as well. Gatiss was interviewed by Mark Morris, and the result was a long train of entertaining anecdotes covering his dual career as actor and writer. I particularly recall his description of being cast as Doctor Lazarus in Doctor Who; he said that the original script read “Lazarus emerges from the capsule, a blond Adonis”, but the final version that they filmed just said “Lazarus emerges from the capsule”! He also mentioned how much fun it was in Sherlock, playing around with people’s expectations that he would be playing Moriarty, e.g. Mycroft’s line about being Sherlock’s worst enemy.

I ducked out of the convention for a couple of hours after that, firstly to have my now-traditional fish’n’chips on the promenade—a somewhat surreal experience, with the full moon overhead and a motionless carousel playing traditional fairground calliope music—and secondly to watch the Doctor Who season finale on TV in my hotel room (unlike Eastercon last year, they didn’t show it at the convention itself). Add in a cup of tea whilst watching the telly, and my evening was about as English as you can get!

Saturday ended with the now-traditional FantasyCon Disco in the bar, ably hosted by Rio Youers and Guy Adams, with a little help from Sarah Pinborough. We danced and sweated from 10.30pm until the wee hours, though I confess that I bailed at 2am with aching feet. Still, I got off more lightly than Tom Pollock, who won his dance-off against Joe Abercrombie despite a sprained ankle which swelled up horribly the next morning.

On Sunday I had another official duty, and this time something that I couldn’t announce in advance. About a fortnight before the convention I got an email from fellow debut author Kameron Hurley, asking if I would accept the Sydney J Bounds Best Newcomer Award on her behalf, since she wasn’t able to make it to the UK. Thankfully all I had to do was introduce the video of her acceptance speech, but it was still somewhat nerve-wracking and I was relieved when all the photography was over! Nonetheless it was a huge honour to do it, and my thanks and congratulations to Kameron, who is now a multi-award-winning author on this side of the Atlantic.

Pecanchoose – sundae heaven on a Sunday!
Pecanchoose – sundae heaven on a Sunday!

It wasn’t all convention activity this weekend, though. Brighton is a great place to shop, and so I came home with two pairs of Terra Plana trainers (one pair free in the sale), a beautiful suede handbag and more Montezuma chocolate than was entirely sensible. Also, after the convention’s Dead Dog Party had begun to wind down, I went out to dinner with Lou Morgan, Adam Christopher and Will Hill, for steak, prawns, wings and a huge maple-pecan-brownie ice cream sundae (Lou and I shared it because, you know, we’re not total pigs!). A lovely end to a great convention; can’t wait for World Fantasy in Brighton next autumn!